Clause 2 - Extent and Commencement

Pensions (Special Rules for End of Life) Bill – in the House of Commons at 10:32 am on 17 May 2024.

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Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Conservative, Suffolk Coastal 10:32, 17 May 2024

I beg to move amendment 1, page 1, line 22, leave out from “force” to end of line 23 and insert—

“at the end of the period of four months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.”

This amendment would bring the provisions of the Bill which extend to England and Wales and Scotland, and section 1(5) which extends to England and Wales and Scotland and Northern Ireland, into force four months after Royal Assent.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 4, page 2, line 1, leave out from “force” to end of line 2 and insert—

“at the end of the period of four months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.”

This amendment would bring the provisions of the Bill which extend only to Northern Ireland into force four months after Royal assent.

Amendment 2, page 2, line 5, leave out subsection (7)

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 1.

Amendment 5, page 2, line 7, leave out subsection (8).

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 4.

Amendment 3, page 2, line 10, leave out subsection (9).

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 1.

Amendment 6, page 2, line 12, leave out subsection (10).

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 4.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

I am grateful to my hon. Friend Mr Robertson and to the Government and the Department for Work and Pensions. I have tabled these amendments because, as has been seen with other Bills to which we have given Third Reading, they concern the timing of when an Act comes into effect. I am conscious that there are a number of situations where more work needs to be done to get some of the details and guidance, and other elements like that. Regrettably, for a variety of pieces of legislation, waiting for the Secretary of State to create regulations has somewhat delayed the introduction after Royal Assent of the effect of the Act that so many people have worked hard to achieve.

I am not in any way trying to detract from the regulator or from the Department for Work and Pensions, of which I was proud to be the Secretary of State, but I am particularly conscious about the uncertainty of the timing of a general election. Of course there are still procedures that can be done to some extent, but those who have held ministerial office will know some of the challenges that take place in terms of process, procedure, and different Cabinet committees. Put simply—this is why I am grateful to my hon. Friend and to the Government for listening to my concerns—the amendments would remove extra steps of process. That matters because I am keen to see the Bill enacted. I am not seeking in any way to hold it up. I want certainty about making it happen, and I was concerned about the uncertainty of timing. I was careful to check that the amendments would not affect the legislative consent motion that has already passed the Northern Ireland Assembly. If there is any way that they do, I have not been made aware of that—I have been given the opposite assurance.

I am keen to ensure that the United Kingdom moves together. We have two formally separate systems. These are transferred powers—they have always been powers for the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly to deal with—but I know that the Executive and the Assembly have been keen, particularly in social security matters, for the United Kingdom to proceed in step so that we do not give different treatment to the same things, especially when we all pay the same tax and we all tend to have the same service providers.

After careful consideration, I wanted to ensure that the Bill becomes law in a timely fashion, without the need for further process, and that is why I will be pressing my amendments.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury

I thank my right hon. Friend Dr Coffey for tabling her amendments and for discussing them with me over the last few days. We have worked to try to ensure that the best outcome is found. She makes the point that when there is a general election coming, albeit that that is an unusual circumstance—one hopes that it will arise only every five years—it throws things into doubt. The last thing we would want is for the Bill to get Royal Assent and then, for some reason—probably the election—not come into force. I understand where she is coming from on that.

I also thank the Minister and the Government for discussing these issues and coming to an agreement to accept the amendments. I am certainly very happy to accept them. There is no need for me to drag proceedings out any further at this point. I thank all concerned for their work.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

I rise just to seek some reassurance on the amendments. I am not at all against them in principle—when I read them on the amendment paper, I could understand what Dr Coffey was attempting to do and exactly why—but it strikes me that they rather run roughshod over established procedures, particularly with respect to the devolved Administrations, by giving quite a strict timetable. I wonder whether the Minister could reassure the House. Although it is not the case here, the changes made by Bills can often be quite complex and have to be made appropriately, and putting a very hard stop in a Bill, regardless of context, sets rather a difficult precedent.

Although I do not object to what the right hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal is trying to do, I was slightly surprised by the bulldozer approach that the amendments create. In this circumstance it is manageable, but it might not be quite so manageable in other, more complex circumstances. I suppose I seek some reassurance from the Minister about the precedent that the amendments will set. How wide will it go? Are we going to start including in Bills a precise timetable for when they will be put into effect, with a hard stop, regardless of their complexity?

I understand that Mr Robertson wants his Bill—we all want this to be done quickly—but there are some precedents being created here that would be slightly worrying if they were to extend more widely. I wonder whether the Minister might give us some thoughts and insights in that respect. I want to make it clear that the Opposition do not object to the Bill at all, but I am quite surprised by the innovative way in which the right hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal has sought to pursue her desire to get this thing done quickly.

Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

I thank my right hon. Friend Dr Coffey for her considered amendments, and for the reasoned arguments behind them. I know that she has been engaging extensively with our excellent officials at the DWP, whom she knows extremely well.

Dame Angela Eagle asked about innovations. My right hon. Friend is incredibly innovative, and I am not surprised that that is attracting attention. Let me also thank my hon. Friend Mr Robertson for the attentive way in which he has listened to all this. As for the question of precedent, it is not unusual for Bills to have set commencement dates when we are sure that they can be commenced on the date in question. I hope that that reassures the hon. Lady.

I think we can all agree that we want the provisions in the Bill to be commenced with minimal delay. They are important, and will provide much-needed financial support up to six months earlier than is currently the case for those who have received the devastating news that they have a terminal illness. My right hon. Friend is clearly mindful of that following her own experience in the DWP, and it is what is driving these changes. They build on the work that the Department began in 2022, under her formidable and inspiring leadership. She will be only too well aware of the importance that the Department has placed on doing all that it can to help people at these difficult times.

The amendments are intended to ensure that the Bill specifies the point at which the provisions will come into force. They provide for this to be a period of four months after the Bill has received Royal Assent. Putting the commencement date on the face of the Bill would mean that the Secretary of State’s power to make regulations commencing the provisions, or transitional or saving provisions, would no longer be necessary, and amendments 2, 3, 5 and 6 seek to remove all those provisions. Similar amendments are made to the provisions covering Northern Ireland, and at this point it may be prudent to remind the House that the Northern Ireland Assembly has already provided a legislative consent order for the Bill as drafted. I hope that that reassures my right hon. Friend.

When the Bill was drafted towards the end of last year, it was unclear to the Department how quickly the Pension Protection Fund would be able to implement the changes. The decision to commence them via a commencement order gave the Department the flexibility to ensure that the fund was in a position to implement the new conditions at commencement, and that the corresponding changes to the Financial Assistance Scheme Regulations 2005 could be made at the same time. In Committee, the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend Paul Maynard, was very clear about commencement, saying:

“I can confirm today that the intention is for that to happen as soon as practicable after Royal Assent. I see no reason for delay or obfuscation.” ––[Official Report, Pensions (Special Rules for End of Life) Public Bill Committee, 24 April 2024;
c. 10.]

Hopefully we are all agreed, and can all be assured that we have absolutely no intention of creating any unnecessary delay in enacting these vital measures, which will make a massive difference to people at the most difficult time in their lives, and, indeed, to their families, bringing real comfort.

At the end of Committee stage on 24 April, officials from the Department sought further clarification from the Pension Protection Fund on how quickly it could implement the changes. Its response was very positive, and I want to put on record our appreciation for the work it has been undertaking. It has confirmed that its internal teams have been working towards having everything ready by the beginning of July, the earliest date on which the Bill could potentially have received Royal Assent. I therefore confirm to my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal that DWP officials have been in touch with their counterparts in the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland, who have helpfully confirmed that they do not envisage any problem with commencing the relevant Northern Ireland provisions in a timely manner to retain parity across the United Kingdom.

Notwithstanding the point made by the hon. Member for Wallasey, and with that in mind, I see no reason why the Department cannot meet the new requirement that the amendments will impose, and I have recommended that the Government do not oppose them. I thank my right hon. Friend for raising her concerns and bringing them to the House in the manner and the style that she did.

Amendment 1 agreed to.

Amendments made: 4, page 2, line 1, leave out from “force” to end of line 2 and insert—

“at the end of the period of four months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.”

This amendment would bring the provisions of the Bill which extend only to Northern Ireland into force four months after Royal assent.

Amendment 2, page 2, line 5, leave out subsection (7)

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 1.

Amendment 5, page 2, line 7, leave out subsection (8).

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 4.

Amendment 3, page 2, line 10, leave out subsection (9).

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 1.

Amendment 6, page 2, line 12, leave out subsection (10) —(Dr Coffey.)

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 4.

Third Reading

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury 10:46, 17 May 2024

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I am pleased that the Bill’s passage through the House has been relatively smooth, so I thank the Government and indeed the Opposition for their support. Although the Bill’s scope is narrow, it will provide financial assurance to those who have received the devastating diagnosis of a terminal illness and who have also seen the sponsors of their pension schemes become insolvent. The Bill will do that by amending the definition of the words “terminally ill”.

When someone receives the awful news that they may have only months to live, it is only right that financial problems should be the least of their worries. The loss of their rightful pension payments should not mean that they must live out their remaining time constrained by their financial circumstances. The Bill aims to address that problem directly.

For wider context, the Bill focuses on the Pension Protection Fund and the financial assistance scheme. The Pension Protection Fund, established by the Pensions Act 2004, pays compensation to individuals when the sponsors of their defined-benefit schemes—usually their employers—become insolvent and lack the necessary assets to pay those pensions to the level that the Pension Protection Fund ordinarily would. That is for cases when such insolvency takes place on or after 6 April 2005. The financial assistance scheme applies to individuals whose pension schemes were unable to meet their pensions liabilities in full when those schemes started to wind up between 1 January 1997 and 5 April 2005. The Bill concerns the compensation payments made to people diagnosed with a terminal illness from those schemes.

The Pension Protection Fund provides a one-off lump sum payment to those who receive such a diagnosis, while the financial assistance scheme will begin to make payments to someone at any age. The issue that the Bill seeks to address is the definition of a terminal illness.

The Pension Protection Fund and the financial assistance scheme both use the same legal definition of terminal illness, which that is that

“a person is ‘terminally ill’ at any time if at that time the person suffers from a progressive disease and the person’s death in consequence of that disease can reasonably be expected within 6 months.”

The same definition was used by the Department for Work and Pensions for the purpose of calculating benefits, but that was reformed in the Social Security (Special Rules for End of Life) Act 2022, where the six-month period included in the definition of “terminally ill” was extended to 12 months. The change in definition for these two pension schemes seems only logical. That would keep the definition consistent with making social security payments.

It is difficult to say how many people will benefit from the Bill, and in reality we do not really want people to benefit as that would mean that the sponsors of their pension funds have become insolvent, which we do not want to see. However, where that is the case, this legislation will benefit terminally ill people.

The Bill’s scope is technically limited to the Pension Protection Fund and the financial assistance scheme, but I hope it will encourage any workplace pension that does not have provision for terminal illness, where the member has a life expectancy of 12 months or less, to consider putting such a scheme into place. Depending on the scheme’s rules, many private pension schemes can already make what are called serious ill health payments under tax law, if the member has up to one year to live. The change will be well worth making.

The heartbreaking job of giving a terminal illness diagnosis falls to health professionals. Modern medicine, surgery, palliative care and the general care provided by our incredible NHS staff make that judgment even more difficult. It is therefore right to extend the definition of terminally ill from the narrow band of six months to the more accommodating threshold of 12 months. That is fairer not only to the ill person but to those who have to make the difficult judgment, especially when those health professionals know that a person’s pension payments may rest on that.

As we just heard, the Bill extends throughout the United Kingdom, and comes into force in England, Scotland and Wales four months after Royal Assent, and likewise in the case of Northern Ireland. I commend it to the House.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Conservative, Suffolk Coastal 10:51, 17 May 2024

It is a pleasure to support my hon. Friend in this important change. I commend him on the detail in his speech, which he also displayed in the Bill Committee, on which I was happy to serve. The Bill recognises that regulations have moved on. Back in 2022, the Government, with the support of Parliament, made changes to social security benefits to align ourselves with what was happening in the NHS. Plenty of people who get a terminal illness could find that their lifetime may be longer than six or 12 months. The Bill considers particularly where people are diagnosed later, and to accelerate or extend potential benefits.

The national health service considers people to be terminally ill when they estimate that they have around 12 months left to live. That is never an easy message to give, or for people to receive. There seems to be very little medical accuracy in getting the timeline right, but that length of time has been well established in the NHS. That is why this is sensible legislation—to align with how the NHS treats patients, as opposed to the somewhat arbitrary 6 months. The reference to the PPF and the financial assistance scheme available will be welcomed by people right across the country. I am keen to see this legislation pass through the Commons and the Lords at great speed.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster 10:53, 17 May 2024

I wish to begin also by thanking Mr Robertson for introducing this important Bill. It is a pleasure to speak on Third Reading.

Pensions offer individuals peace of mind, knowing that they have a dependable source of income after years of dedicated hard work. As well as alleviating the stress of financial uncertainty in old age, pensions allow retirees to retain their standard of living during retirement. I welcome the Bill as it seeks to provide the same opportunity for financial security for those with a terminal illness, and thus offers a more dignified end of life experience in what I can only imagine is an unstable and devastating time for the individual and their families.

The Bill seeks to extend the definition of terminal illness for the PPF and the FAS to 12 months, rather than the current six, to allow those who are eligible to receive vital financial support. I welcome the fact that the Bill will bring the PPF and the FAS in line with the NHS and Department for Work and Pensions definition of terminal illness, which is 12 months. Indeed, thanks to the brilliant work of our NHS and the consistent progress in medical science, it is difficult to predict how long someone is likely to live. In some cases, patients are able to outlive their initial prognosis. That is why the Bill is so important.

It is also due to our NHS and medical advancements that more and more of us are reaching pensionable age. As we all know, many developed nations are now facing an ageing population as birth rates decline. Therefore, the amount of British people accessing their pensions at any one time will steadily increase. In fact, pensioners represent 18.6% of the population, and 12.5% of my constituency is 65 and over. The Government have done so much to support pensioners. We heard in the autumn statement that the Government announced an 8.5% increase in the state pension, in line with the Government’s initiative: the triple lock. As a result, the new state pension is now worth up to £900 more a year and ensures that older people get the support they deserve.

Those nearing the end of their life deserve to have access to the same level of financial support. It is thanks to the compassionate Government that people with terminal illnesses are able to get faster and easier access to certain benefits through the special benefit rules for end of life. Recent changes mean that special rules now apply to people who have 12 months or less to live, rather than six. Those who are eligible are able to claim universal credit, employment and support allowance, personal independence payment, disability living allowance, and attendance allowance. The Bill will simply align the PPF and the FAS with those existing provisions, reflecting the Government’s commitment thus far to aiding those nearing the end of their lives. The Government have also provided necessary cost of living support worth over £1.4 billion. The support includes two rounds of means-tested cost of living payments, disability cost of living payments and pensioner cost of living payments.

We have all heard from our constituents the anxiety felt over the cost of living crisis, with rising prices that were caused by the pandemic and Putin’s weaponisation of energy due to his illegal invasion of Ukraine. Imagine now how the situation would worsen for individuals facing a terminal illness: the cost of heating their home, travelling to medical appointments, and potential childcare costs as their life is turned upside down.

Marie Curie, the charity that does tremendous work in this area, has published an eye-opening report, “Dying in Poverty”, which reveals that on average a pensioner’s energy bill doubles once they are diagnosed with a terminal illness. I find that incredible and very, very worrying. The report also highlights that people of working age who die are twice as likely to spend their final years of life in poverty, compared with people of pensionable age. That poignant reality demonstrates the crucial need for Bills like this one by enabling individuals in these unfortunate circumstances to access their pensions early. The Bill addresses the crisis outlined by charities such as Marie Curie and aims to restore dignity to those affected.

I also pay tribute to amazing charities registered in the Cities of London and Westminster that support those nearing the end of their life: Compassion in Dying, a national charity that provides advice and information to those at the end of life; the Sunseeker London Charitable Trust, which provides financial support to organisations dedicated to the care of terminally ill people; and the Bennett Kleinwort Charitable Trust, which provides care and treatment for terminally ill people. The work of these charities plays a crucial role in advancing progress towards addressing the challenges faced by terminally ill individuals, which is also the objective of the Bill.

Once again, I express my support for this Bill. I understand that the hope is that it will encourage pension providers that do not currently have provision for serious ill health payments for those with a life expectancy of 12 months or less to consider putting it in place. Although the Bill may be narrow in scope, I am confident that it is a necessity and will have a wider positive impact. Any one of us can be diagnosed with a terminal illness, and it is important that there are provisions in place to offer financial assistance. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury for bringing forward this admirable Bill.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey 11:00, 17 May 2024

I, too, congratulate Mr Robertson on bringing this Bill before the House on Report and Third Reading. As we have heard, the Bill seeks to ensure that there is financial support for terminally ill people who have seen the sponsors of their pension schemes become insolvent. Thankfully, it is a small number of people, and we hope it does not get any bigger, but that illustrates the narrowness of the Bill. It seeks to expand eligibility for terminal illness payments from the Pension Protection Fund and the financial assistance scheme from those with less than six months to live to those with less than 12 months to live, bringing the definition of “terminally ill” in line with that used for social security payments by the Department for Work and Pensions, which Dr Coffey formerly led.

As the hon. Member for Tewkesbury highlighted, the Bill is narrow in scope and, thankfully, concerns a fairly small number of people, but its impact for that group will be significant, because it will unlock access to a vital lifeline of support when they have received a diagnosis. For that reason, Labour supports and welcomes the Bill. Receiving a terminal diagnosis is devastating, both for the individual themselves and for their family and loved ones. Such a diagnosis brings with it a slew a challenges and difficult decisions.

As Nickie Aiken mentioned, the Marie Curie report on this issue makes for very sobering reading. It points out that one in four people of working age who are diagnosed with a terminal illness spends the last years of their life in poverty, and that one in six pensioners is below the poverty line at the end of their life. There are different reasons for all those things, but one has to imagine the circumstances in which people find themselves to understand that this Bill is a tiny step in the right direction for a group of people in a particular context. By no means will it solve a lot of issues related to old age, poverty and illness, which the Bill touches on.

Marie Curie has also highlighted that, all too often, terminal illness brings with it huge financial burdens and extra costs of between £12,000 and £16,000 per year for a household. This is the so-called double burden of income loss and the additional costs that a terminal diagnosis can often bring about. It pushes families towards insecurity and fear about their income, and forces them to confront poverty at a time when they have to deal with other insecurities and fears, adding another layer of distress at the hardest of times. Those with a terminal illness should not be forced to spend the end of their lives worried about making ends meet, and I am sure that all Members would feel a lot happier if not so many of our pensioners found that that is what they face.

By opening up eligibility for support, be it through a lump sum payment from the financial assistance scheme or payments through the Pension Protection Fund in the narrow range of circumstances that the hon. Member for Tewkesbury has rightly identified, this Bill will go some way to ease the financial burdens on those who are lucky enough to have a defined benefit pension entitlement, but unlucky enough to have had their pension fund go bust and end up in the Pension Protection Fund. Extra access to cash can allow those nearing the end of their life to focus on spending the time they have left with those they love, supported with dignity and respect, which is what I think everyone in this House wants to see.

Labour welcomes this change, but I question why it has been left to a private Member’s Bill, albeit we are very happy to support the glorious achievement of the hon. Member for Tewkesbury in bringing it forward. We supported the Social Security (Special Rules for End of Life) Act 2022, which amended the DWP’s definition of terminal illness, for the purpose of social security rules, to less than 12 months to live, raising it from less than six months. It was right to make that change then, but I wonder why more work was not done by the Department under the right hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal to check the consistency of those rules when the Act was put on to the statute book. If that had been done, we would have had two more years of support for the terminally ill between 2022 and 2024, and many people would have been helped.

I wonder whether any other inconsistencies are lurking in the DWP on the change from six months to 12 months, and whether the Minister might trawl through the many bits of legislation and many statutory instruments that deal with such things to see whether any other inconsistencies could be quickly put right. Will she commit from the Dispatch Box to ensuring consistency across all the definitions of terminal illness and, because the move has been made to shift the definition from six months to 12 months, undertake to make certain that there are no other inconsistencies lurking, so that we do not have to do this again with another private Member’s Bill to make sure the definition finally lands at 12 months, with no remaining six-month definitions causing inconsistency?

Every hour, 10 people die in poverty in the UK, and one in four terminally ill people of working age spends the last year of their life in poverty. The cost of living crisis has acutely affected those who are nearing the end of their life. A terminally ill person’s energy bill can rise by 75% after their diagnosis, with critical equipment often sending bills soaring. For example, the cost of energy to run an oxygen concentrator can be £65 a month. A dialysis machine can cost £27 a month and a ventilator can cost £35 a month. Very few people wish to be in hospital when they have access to these services but, all too often, it appears that we are leaving them with the cost of running these vital bits of machinery to keep them alive.

It is an indictment of 14 years of Government failure and neglect of our public services that so many people are spending the end of their life in poverty, struggling to make ends meet and worrying whether they can afford to run the equipment that is keeping them alive. The way our country treats those nearing the end of their life should be a mark of how civilised we are, and I fear that we are not passing that test as well as we should.

I finish by repeating my congratulations to the hon. Member for Tewkesbury on his work on this Bill. We fully support its aims, and we hope to see further work in this area.

Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 11:09, 17 May 2024

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend Mr Robertson for bringing this important legislation to the House and for the way he has successfully navigated it to this stage. I thank him for his important speech and insights on why the Bill matters, matched equally by those of my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken.

I thank Dame Angela Eagle for her support for the Bill. She asked why these regulations were not included in the 2022 Act. Unfortunately, they were out of scope as that Bill was altering entitlement conditions for benefits. I assure her my officials have said no other areas are in need of amending—I see that gets the thumbs up from the Opposition Dispatch Box. On consistent definition, the Bill will build on previous legislation that changed special rules for social security benefit. This final change brings the payments made by the Pension Protection Fund and financial assistance scheme into alignment with those changes.

I thank all Members who have taken part in the debates that have led the Bill to progress to this stage, including the Committee stage, and for the cross-party support it has rightly received. As has been outlined, the Bill builds on the 2022 changes the Government introduced to social security benefits. That legislation was welcomed by excellent key charities, such as Marie Curie, the Motor Neurone Disease Association and Macmillan Cancer Support. It changed the special rules for a number of benefits, ensuring claims were rightly fast tracked. Those who were thought to be in the final year of their life were able to receive vital financial support six months earlier.

This week is Dementia Action Week, bringing the UK together to take action on dementia and promoting an understanding of its impact. The Alzheimer’s Society and many groups and charities do so much on this important issue. I extend my thanks to them from the Dispatch Box.

By extending the definition of terminal illness from six to 12 months’ life expectancy for payments under both the Pension Protection Fund and the financial assistance scheme, the Bill completes the journey. The Bill will mean that members are able to rightly claim compensation on the ground of terminal illness, if a medical professional confirms that they have less than 12 months to live, rather than the current six months.

Hon. Members have spoken about the terrible time that people will be going through and the financial impact. There is often more financial assistance than perhaps people know, if they are not used to being part of the benefits arena. I urge people to look at the benefits calculator at gov.uk and to work with Citizens Advice, which runs our help to claim service, so that costs can be met and understood at a difficult time.

To assure the hon. Member for Wallasey, in my role as Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, I met with the Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero, my hon. Friend Justin Tomlinson, this week to discuss costs and other matters concerning the national disability strategy and the disability action plan. As the hon. Lady said, the issue is at the forefront of my mind and we are aligned on those concerns.

Decisions on terminal illness will be made by healthcare professionals, such as clinicians and medical practitioners. We thank them for that great work at such a difficult time, as pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury. As we heard during Committee stage, the definition will include advanced cancer, dementia, motor neurone disease and other neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease.

The changes restore the original policy intent of alignment between the social security special rules, and the Pension Protection Fund and financial assistance scheme terminal illness rules. Just as importantly, they bring both schemes in line with the tax definition of serious ill health, which currently allows private pension schemes to make payments when the member has less than 12 months to live. I will briefly reiterate what I said in the earlier debate on the amendments and repeat what the Minister for Pensions said in Committee: it was never our intention to delay the commencement of these provisions. There is no practical reason for us to do so. However, as discussed today, putting a commencement date on the face of the Bill will provide certainty around the change at a time when people value certainty, and we will ensure that the provisions can commence four months after Royal Assent, as signalled.

I do not want to detain the House any further. We know that being told you are nearing the end of your life can be a frightening experience not only for the individual concerned, but for their family and their loved ones. This Bill, although seemingly small, will have a really positive impact on those whom the provisions cover, at a very difficult time. As with the 2022 Act, the Bill will ensure that when someone reaches the final stages of life, they will not have those additional financial concerns. Receiving a payment at an earlier stage in their final illness will help those people to plan more effectively, providing them with the opportunity to focus on their time with the people who matter to them.

This debate gives me the opportunity to thank the St Peter & St James Hospice, the Hospice in the Weald, St Catherine’s Hospice in Pease Pottage, those local hospices that I am sure we all have, and those charities mentioned in this debate, who bring real comfort and support in all our constituencies at such difficult times. This Bill will help people to live well to the end, with their loved ones and with that comfort. I greatly thank my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury for bringing the Bill forward. We all wish it safe and speedy passage through the other place, so that it can reach the statute book and support those who need it, our loved ones and people in our communities, with no undue delay.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury 11:17, 17 May 2024

I am pleased to draw this debate to a close by thanking the Minister and the Opposition for their support, and in particular with regard to setting the date for the commencement of legislation. In that context, I also thank my right hon. Friend Dr Coffey for her amendments. I thank all hon. Members who have spoken in this debate and particularly those who served in the Committee stage. I also extend my thanks to those at the Department for Work and Pensions and the Bill management team, who have been so very helpful, and to the staff at Marie Curie, who were mentioned earlier and who campaigned so strongly on this issue. Hon. Members will know we cannot function in this place without the help of our staff, so I particularly thank my staff, Benjamin Jones and Harry Wallis, for the work they have put in. I hope by working together on this piece of legislation that we will have made a difference.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.